HORACE WALPOLE (1717-97) was born in London, the youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole, and educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge. Between 1739 and 1741 he toured France and Italy with the poet Thomas Gray. Soon after his return, he became a Member of Parliament and in 1747 he bought the villa at Twickenham which he renamed Strawberry Hill. Remodelled, extended, and embellished in the 'gothick' style over two decades, it became a popular tourist attraction. He established a printing-press there and published many of his own works as well as those of others. Apart from The Castle of Otranto (1764) his books include the Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors of England (1758) and Historic Doubts on Richard III (1768).
WILLIAM BECKFORD was born, probably in London, in 1760. On the death of his father in 1770 he inherited an immense fortune. At nineteen he left for a tour of Holland, Germany, Italy, and France and over the next forty years he was often away from England, at times in order to escape scandal. In 1783 he married, and in the following year he became the Member of Parliament for Wells. He spent large sums in collecting works of art and curios and in the building and extravagant decoration of his mansion, Fonthill Abbey. He died in 1844 from a severe attack of influenza.
Beckford was eccentric, extravagant, and of undoubted intellectual ability. Vathek, first written in French at the age of twenty-one, was translated under his supervision and published in England in 1786. His other books include Dreams, Waking Thoughts, and Incidents (1783, revised 1834) and Recollections of an Excursion to the Monasteries of Alcobaça and Batalka (1835).
MATTHEW LEWIS was born in 1775 into a rich, influential family. His father was a politician, his mother attended court. He was educated at Westminster and Christ Church. In 1792 he went to Weimar, and in 1794 became attaché to the British embassy in the Hague where he wrote The Monk. The indecency of the tale provoked many protests and he was obliged to expunge many passages for the second edition. He sat in the House of Commons 1796-1802, during which time he wrote many plays and poems. Lewis wrote no more plays after his father's death in 1812, and from 1815 to 1818 he went twice to Jamaica to organize his estates there, and also visited Italy. On his return to England from his second visit to Jamaica he died of yellow fever and was buried at sea.
MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT SHELLEY was born in 1797, the only daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Her mother died a few days after Mary's birth.
Mary was courted by the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was already married, in the summer of 1814. They eloped to the Continent in July. In I8I6 they spent the summer with Lord Byron near Geneva, during which time Frankenstein was begun. That same year, Shelley's wife committed suicide and he married Mary. Their two small children died in 1818 and 1819, and in 1822 Shelley himself was drowned. Mary was heart-broken, as her diaries show, and in 1823 she returned to England with her younger son. She had little money, but, largely supporting herself by writing, she managed to send her son to Harrow and Cambridge. In 1844 Shelley's father died, leaving Mary in better circumstances. She died in 1851 and was buried in Bournemouth.